‘Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint’ showcases a pioneering artist

Albin Dahlström

“Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint” describes the work and life of the long-unrecognized Swedish artist who pioneered abstract art. “Beyond the Visible” plays through May 10, and “Spaceship Earth” from May 8 to May 22 at the virtual M.V. Film Center at Home.

“Beyond the Visible” rescues the late Swedish artist from the trash heap of art history. The contemporary of Kandinsky, Malevich, and Mondrian, she is the forgotten pioneer of abstract art. Unlike her artistic colleagues, she chose not to exhibit and in fact stipulated that her work not be shown until 20 years after her death. Her 1,500 paintings and 26,000 pages of notebooks went to her nephew Erik af Klint, and she didn’t have her first major exhibit until last year at the Guggenheim Museum.

Af Klint studied at the Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm, and as one of their top students, won numerous awards and was granted a post-baccalaureate studio by the Academy. Even though she became an accomplished portraitist, illustrator, and landscape painter, what made her work so radical was its exploration of the invisible dimensions of reality. Such scientific discoveries as atoms, x-rays, and radio waves fascinated her, and she incorporated them conceptually into the abstract paintings that she began making in 1906. This work employed geometric forms, spirals, and vivid colors.

She also was interested in the spiritualism popular at the time, associating with Madame Helena Blavatsky and Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the latter of whom discouraged her from painting. Her connection to theosophy and the occult partially explains her neglect by the leading art historians of the time and more recently, but even more so did the fact that she was a woman. Museums like the Museum of Modern Art and galleries of the day rejected her work, arguing that because she had not exhibited, it was not valuable or worth showing.

“Beyond the Visible” provides the biographical background that has been missing, and includes imaginative creations of af Klint and illustrates her large paintings as well as a rich trove of her other work. It is a welcome revival of a brilliant artist and work that has led to a revision of art history.

To watch the M.V. Film Center’s current films virtually, visit M.V. Film Center at Home.